Opioid abuse and our neighbors: 3 characteristics our churches need

November 13, 2017

We are in the midst of a crisis.

Fifty-eight thousand Americans died during the Vietnam War. And 64,000 Americans died last year from opioid overdose. At least 4,149 of those who died last year were my neighbors and friends in Ohio.

Recently, a 12-year-old boy died because of a fentanyl overdose. He was at a sleepover in my city—the city where my toddlers play at the local parks and where my wife and I enjoy date nights at our favorite restaurants. But sadly, this is also the city where we fill our cemeteries with those who die way too young and where children flood foster homes, orphaned because of opioid overdoses.

Opioids come in all shapes and sizes. Most overdoses happen because of taking heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. Increasingly, users are taking carfentanil, an extremely potent opioid used as an elephant tranquilizer. They come in less suspecting forms, too. You know those orange pill bottles filled with little tablets of OxyContin, Percocet, Lortab, or Vicodin  as the pain relievers that helped you get through recovery after your back surgery or wisdom teeth removal, but they are opioids, too. They are dangerous and being pedaled on the streets of our cities. And our neighbors are dying as a result.

We need gospel-centered communities

How should Christians react to the tragic loss of human lives all around us due to opioid abuse? How should the church react to our society’s clear rebellion against God’s design for medication? Rather than seeking yet another program or ministry initiative, though these things are helpful, I think the church will influence the world around us best by living out the gospel in communities of faith. Here are three characteristics of the communities we need:

1. We need communities who fight against all sin— from opioid abuse to self-righteousness.

God opposes the self-righteous (James 4:6). The Son of God took on flesh to live and die in the place of sinners. God’s salvation comes solely as a gift of God’s grace, and not as a result of any goodness in us (Eph. 2:8–9). If this is true, and it is, then our churches should be communities of people where admitting sin makes sense. Confession and repentance should characterize our churches, because we affirm that we all sin (Rom. 3:23) and come to faith only by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8). Our churches, made up of blood-bought sinners covered by God’s grace, will need to develop a culture where the opioid addict and the VBS Director will thrive together because the church deals with all sin and showcases the grace of God to all since none deserve it.

2. We need communities who make the gospel clear and love their neighbors.

The gospel does not offer good news for anyone but sinners. Thankfully, drug abusers are welcome to receive God’s grace through Jesus. When churches make the gospel clear, the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22), all sinners find reason for hope. And as this gospel is believed, love for neighbor will begin to spread, too. The thousands affected by opioid cravings are more than “druggies” or “addicts;” they are our neighbors, and they are in need of our help and support. Christianity requires neighborly love, and this begins with our churches loving their community.

3. We need communities who preach and live out the gospel of adoption.

The gospel gives orphans the Father and the Older Brother every child wants (Gal. 4:4–5). And now we, as God’s adopted children, get to live out the gospel by caring for those who need a home (James 1:27). The opioid crisis produces more parentless children each day. Churches who take the gospel seriously will take the care of orphans seriously, too, through foster care, adoption, and other means of support. We need gospel communities to step up to the plate to care for the many orphans left without a father or mother because of opioid abuse.

Could it be that simple?

We cannot (and should not) oversimplify the opioid crisis in Ohio and North America. No quick fixes exist. Yes, we may need to explore different practices for prescribing medication to those in pain. Yes, physicians and insurance companies may need to offer alternatives options. There are broken people who need deep healing. Thankfully wonderful organizations exist to aid churches in the fight, but adding a program to help those addicted to drugs, though helpful, will not totally eradicate the problem. Jesus alone has the power to forgive, deliver, and transform.

So, we desperately need more gospel-centered communities—churches—who love Jesus, live out the gospel in community, and take sin seriously. Too many of our neighbors are dying while chasing after the next high. You may not pop a pill to get that high, but each of us run to something for what only Christ can provide. We need to be the kind of Christians and churches who, in word and deed over the long haul, will invite all those looking for another fix to find it in the One who will always satisfy, but never destroy those who come to him in faith. 

Peyton Hill

Peyton Hill is the lead pastor at Highland Baptist Church in Grove City, Ohio. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24